BEIJING -- Think back to the end of last summer to another warm, humid place. Team USA is leaving Osaka, Japan, and the world championships of track and field with its stars clearly in order.
Four of them are
All competed on Thursday at the Bird's Nest. All emerged as symbolic of America's exasperating track performance. On the clock:
For anyone who has been watching the rounds -- and for that matter, the entire season -- it was not an upset. Felix has been more than respectable, but she has not been the smooth, dominant runner that she was in 2007, when she owned Campbell-Brown at the worlds in 21.81.
Ferguson-McKenzie has another thought on U.S. sprinters. "All the girls are really nice,'' she says. "But in my opinion, when it comes to the relays, there is not so much gelling.'' These words will soon be prophetic.
Felix has had a busy year. In one May week, she traveled to Detroit for the funeral of her boyfriend's father and then returned to graduate from USC. In July, she flew round trip from Europe to California to serve as maid of honor at a close friend's wedding. The wear and tear was obvious in her running. But she says she was not compromised in any way and tosses off no other excuses. It is typically classy work by Felix, who seldom does the wrong thing under pressure.
Her family stands nearby: father
"She's been looking forward to this for four years,'' he said. "And she's had a lot of success along the way. But right now she's disappointed. It's not easy.''
Replays follow. The third-leg runner,
Gay, who failed to make the final of the 100 meters after suffering a hamstring injury at the U.S. trials July 5, takes the blame. "I think I felt it hitting my hand,'' says Gay. "But it was hitting right here.'' He point to his lower wrist. "I didn't feel it all the way in my hand. I'll take the blame. They got the stick around to me and I let them down.''
Seconds later, Patton said, "That's Tyson Gay. Very humble guy. It's my job as the incoming runner to get the stick to the next guy.''
Gay adds, "He's just being nice. It was my fault.''
Not to be outdone in the mea culpa game, U.S. head coach
Let's be honest here: Five for 12 in relay blunders is outrageous. It's probably true the U.S. doesn't practice enough stick-passing, and coaches in the past have made some terrible decisions. But everyone on the team has been running relays for years. It's just not that difficult. Later in the night, NBC analyst
As for Gay, he said, "This has been the total opposite of last year.''
For the women, this was a second consecutive DNF, both involving Williams. In Athens four years ago, Williams failed to get the second exchange from Jones and ran out of the exchange zone. "People want to assess blame to me, that's OK, I'll take it,'' Williams said. (For the record, many people did blame her for running away from Jones in '04, but it's more than possible that Williams left at the right time, but that a chubby, drug-free Jones died at the end of a 100-meter split and couldn't get the stick to Williams).
On this night, the Edwards-Williams exchange looked like it was going to come off easily. Edwards reached and put the stick in Williams's hand ... and then the stick was on the track. "I don't know what happened,'' Williams said. "My hand was there, the stick was there. The stick had a mind of its down. It wasn't my fault, it wasn't Torri's fault. Maybe [the stick] had a little bug in there and it jumped out.''
This was Lauryn Being Lauryn, four days after finishing fourth in the 100 meters, behind Jamaica's sweep. She was trying to lighten a tense situation and it worked. People laughed. But still: The relay was an embarrassment. See above. Just get the stick around.
Wariner suffers through the final strides, easing across the line. Media will debate whether he quit at the finish. My view: He was toast and beaten into second place. But behind him,
Wariner gets angry at a question from NBC and initially blows off the U.S. media waiting for him, He did the same thing after finishing second at the trials in Eugene, Ore. Eventually, he comes back and talks. He is asked about the U.S. struggles. "We're out there competing,'' he says. "Other athletes are just running fast. Y'all can't say we're not competing to our best.''
It's a fair answer. Sometimes you get beat.
Later Wariner tells SI.com, "Some people think my career is over, or my domination is over. This was just one championship, one race. Next year, there is a world championship, and there's another Olympics in four years.
Wariner's struggle aside, the U.S. 400-meter sweep is a bandage on a nasty wound. In the last event on the program,